John Tory’s ‘strengths’

b_kennedy_bigInsiders have described John Tory as believing he was the smartest guy in the room. The facts don’t bear it out. Let’s start with the biggest political goof any Ontario elected politician in his right mind has ever made. I attended the annual meeting of the Willowdale Provincial Conservative party in 2007, which featured Tory as the principal speaker. He was greeted warmly, as if he was hopefully the messiah to lead the provincial party out of the political wilderness.

Tory seized the opportunity to announce dramatically: “You’re going to have to give me this.” He went on to announce his government was pledging full public funding for all religious schools. His final goal would have created 26,000 “faith-based” schools in Ontario. It was greeted with a deadly silence, as if something horrible had just happened. And it was true – John Tory had just single-handedly torpedoed the Ontario Conservative party.

In courting Christian fundamentalist, Jewish and Muslim voters, and aiming at 53,00 students in a plan nobody believed would cost only $400 million, Tory brought together an unholy alliance of public and Catholic school boards, teachers, caretakers, taxpayers and a slew of others fearing for their livelihoods, to oppose the Conservative plan. It was described as a doomed pledge.

Premier Dalton McGuinty was handed an unbelievable political plum as an election issue. McGuinty could have opened up a bottle of champagne and started the victory party then. Tory had reportedly been warned by former Tory Ontario cabinet minister Jim Flaherty not to go there. Flaherty suggested school vouchers would be a better approach, but Tory ignored his advice. Thousands of traditional Conservatives disliked it intensely and stayed home on election day. The McGuinty Liberals won a crushing majority.

The problem with being a former millionaire CEO of Rogers Communications is that you think you’re Moses and consensus is a dirty word. Tory was criticized for his micro-managing, instead of delegating everything from staffing to policy. His Lone Ranger approach contributed to the religious schools fiasco. Tory’s political career seemed to stumble from one cow pie to another.

Tory decided to leave his safe Orangeville-area seat to run against Kathleen Wynne, a very popular minister of education in Toronto’s Don Valley West. A few days prior to the Oct. 10, 2007 election, I spoke to one of the organizers there and he predicted that Wynne would win by 5,000 votes over Tory. I said: “You’ve been polling.” He said: “No. I said voters.” Tory lost by 5,000 votes. Before he decided to run against Wynne, why didn’t Tory do a bit of polling himself? Where were his vaunted “political smarts”?

Tory stumbled into another cow pie when he barely survived a tepid 66.9 per cent confidence vote at a leadership review only one year ago, fighting off continuing attacks on his leadership. At that time, he was unable to convince any of his 25 caucus members to resign so he could contest another by-election. It had been 17 months since Tory had sat in the legislature and the caucus was getting impatient.

Finally, Laurie Scott, the Conservative member in Haliburton-Kiwartha Lakes-Brock, a rural, cottage-country riding, agreed to step down. Who wouldn’t want to run in a Tory riding where Scott, a revered family icon name in the area, had won by 10,000 votes?

It certainly didn’t look like another cow pie confrontation coming up for John Tory. He got the nomination and began electioneering, but could not overcome the anger over losing Scott, a popular member, over Tory being a parachute candidate from Toronto, over his being a drive-through replacement and over doubts about his leadership. It also didn’t help when Kathleen Wynne brought carloads of volunteers up from her riding to canvass for his Liberal opponent. (It’s called settling scores.) Tory made it close, garnering 14,576 votes to Liberal Rick Johnson’s 15,482. But close only counts in horseshoes.

John Tory has been described as a great fundraiser, a dynamo of good works, a hard worker, a credit to his family and the community but he has been overly praised when it comes to politics. He has displayed a lack of good political judgement, as evidenced by his promotion of the faith-based schools idea, which proved very divisive and unwise. He is pro-abortion, as is the winning Liberal in the riding.

John Tory’s strengths lie in the corporate world, where well-paid underlings say: “Yes, sir” or “No, sir.”

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